Harper: Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe

Creating Conversations Issue for Tuesday, July 20, 2021

We are grateful to share this curated selection of newly published books recommended by our bookselling community. We hope you enjoy reading about these books as much as we do, and we thank you for supporting us through your book purchases!

From Creating Conversations

SEEK YOU: A JOURNEY THROUGH AMERICAN LONELINESS is a Maryelizabeth Pick


Maryelizabeth's top handsell title of the summer is Kristen Radtke's SEEK YOU.

"SEEK YOU resonated with me as a fascinating discourse by creator Kristen Radtke about the loneliness so many of us have experienced "together" during pandemic conditions. Her examination of loneliness in America began several years before COVID-19 impacted the globe, and includes sections exploring both an assortment of devices and platforms used for human communication, and also the array of internal and external attitudes and perceptions of what it means to be lonely, whether or not one is alone."

interior page from SEEK YOU discussing the loneliness of bearing arms

Doubleday Books: Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead


Penguin Teen: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao


Tundra Books: Narwhal's School of Awesomeness (a Narwhal and Jelly Book #6) by Ben Clanton


Clavis: Spook-tacular Halloween Picture Books

In this Issue...

Reviews

Kristen Radtke's extraordinary new graphic memoir intricately examines loneliness through personal, social, scientific, historical and contemporary lenses.

Read this review >>

A can-do step-by-step guide for cooking delectable savory and sweet dumplings in graphic novel form, from the creators of Let's Make Ramen!

Read this review >>

Flash Fire

by TJ Klune

This entertaining contemporary fantasy weaves sweet queer high school relationships and suspenseful superhero action.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Graphic Books Science Performing Arts Children's & Young Adult

Instant Help Publications: Finding Her Voice: How Black Girls in White Spaces Can Speak Up and Live Their Truth by Faye Z Belgrave, Ivy Belgrave, and Angela Patton

From Creating Conversations

Upcoming Events

Latina Authors Celebration with Julissa Arce

09/28/2021 - 4:00PM

#WeAllGrow Latina presents a month-long Latina Authors Instagram Live series led by best-selling author Julissa Arce. Julissa will be in conversation with four other successful Latina authors and journalists. Get ready to connect with inspiring Latinas to learn about their journeys to success, how their careers in literature were awakened, and the impact being Latina has had on them as authors! Mark your calendars to join the conversations by following #WeAllGrow Latina® on...

Book Candy

10 Facts About DC Comics

The rights to Superman were bought for $130. Mental Floss shared "10 fun facts about DC Comics."

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More! Dickens, Oliver Twist and Stories of the City, on display at London's Charles Dickens Museum, is a celebration of the author's most popular tale.

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"Discover Japan's oldest surviving cookbook Ryori Monogatari (1643)," Open Culture suggested. 

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The CBC recommended "35 Canadian books to check out in summer 2021."

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"Sculptures that make novel use of books" were showcased by the Guardian.

Gallery Books: The Last Dance of the Debutante by Julia Kelly

Great Reads

Rediscover: Maus

This August marks the 35th anniversary of Art Spiegelman's Maus, which is as much a publishing industry landmark as it is a reminder of the evils of Nazism. Maus helped transform mainstream opinion of the graphic novel from "mere" comic book to serious work of art. In the book, Spiegelman uses anthropomorphic animals--Jews as mice, Germans as cats and Poles as pigs--to tell the story of his parents during the Holocaust. In 1992, Maus became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. In 1996, Pantheon published The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale ($35), and in 2011, it published MetaMaus, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Maus with a supplementary DVD ($35).

In an interview from 2008 about the 30th anniversary edition of Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (Pantheon), Spiegelman said, "I can't control the entire outside world and make the political reality better. But it seems that all of the stuff I dreamed about comics back in the '70s is now a done deal. It's sort of like living in some kind of Philip K. Dick-land.... In Maus, I was spinning all those lessons I'd learned in the Breakdowns scripts in reverse to make you fluidly enter, so if you didn't want to, you didn't notice you were reading a comic after about the first few pages."

Classic Tales as Graphic Novels

Graphic novel versions can make classic novels more approachable for all ages. The illustrations often expand plots and descriptions. Here are a few of our favorites.

For those who wish they could step into a time machine to the Jazz Age and for lovers of the classic American story about a tragic love and the false panacea of consumer goods, pick up the graphic novel edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, adapted by Fred Fordham, illustrated by Aya Morton (Scribner, $30).

The Great Gatsby continues to be an English class mainstay in American high schools, a text that many, even self-proclaimed "non-readers," look upon fondly. Fred Fordham, who adapted Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, teamed up with illustrator Aya Morton to re-create the classic novel for Scribner, Fitzgerald's original publisher. In a pale color palette that evokes the moneyed, halcyon summers of Long Island, and with art deco-inspired drawings, Morton welcomes readers back into a familiar text.

Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan appear in three-piece suits when they are out on the town or attending a party, and tennis shorts when they are spending a leisurely afternoon on their sprawling properties. Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker, in pearls and long, slinky gowns, spend their days with wine in hand. Morton's eye for fashion and interior decor aids the reader in becoming fully immersed in the era, while Fordham's economical reworking of the original text reflects a deep intimacy with Fitzgerald's work.

Collaborators Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have written multiple books in the distinctive universe of Frank Herbert's science fiction classic Dune. With their Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 1, illustrated by Raúl Allén, Patricia Martín and Bill Sienkiewicz (Abrams ComicArts, $24.99), Herbert and Anderson join forces again with the aim of adapting the beloved novel while staying within the bounds of the original Dune canon. Although the duo says they weren't interested in adding their own "special stamp" to the story, the nature of graphically adapting a classic, especially one as complex as Dune, requires a keen editorial eye in selecting the right text to tell the story and capture the atmosphere. Most importantly, a graphic adaptation also requires passing half of the burden of worldbuilding to the illustrators, who in this case must translate a novel that lives in the imaginations of so many.

The first entry in a planned three-part adaptation, Dune translates the part of the original Dune that is primarily exposition. The slow plotting and rumination that make up much of this first adaptation provide an excellent opportunity to fill in all of the extraordinary details of this space opera through illustrations of the sandworms, the armor and robes, and the Sardaukar. With serene blues for the planet of Caladan and stunning sulphurous neons for Arrakis, veteran illustrators Allén and Martín aid the reader in understanding the vastness of this world. With Denis Villeneuve's star-studded Dune film adaptation coming this fall, this graphic novel is a visually compelling entry point into Frank Herbert's famed universe.

In Mikhail Bulgakov's cult classic The Master and Margarita (SelfMadeHero, $24.99), a smooth-talking devil and his acolytes--the naked vampire-witch Hella, the rotund and fedora-clad Azazello and the talking black cat Behemoth--parade around Moscow during the Stalinist period, systematically sowing chaos and unmasking the follies of Muscovites. Adapters and artists Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal capture the dark and mischievous spirit of The Master and Margarita in the text they pull from the novel, but it is the illustrations that animate this adaptation.

This version, like the original novel, weaves the Jesus-like tale of Yeshua Ha-Notsri into a contemporary Moscow timeline. The features of the characters are rich in detail, the texture of Ha-Notsri's beard and the discoloration around his eyes almost lifelike. The skies are blue and open, despite the injustices that occur beneath them. To contrast, most of the sections that depict Moscow are in black and white. They are more impressionistic, the features of these characters are more vague and occasionally caricatured. The city appears claustrophobic, reflecting the shallow ideologies beneath the veneer of intellectualism and consumption in 1930s Moscow. For readers who have already read this classic satire, the impressive visual sensibilities of Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal create a worthy graphic companion.

In a creative melding of adaptation and biography, Isabel Greenberg illustrates the Brontë siblings' juvenilia alongside the real events of their childhoods in Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës (Abrams ComicArts, $24.99). Readers are granted a view of the young Brontës' lives that reflects the tragedy and mundanity of their shared childhood, but also demonstrates the means by which they imagine themselves into other worlds.

With pens, ink vials and paper, Branwell, Charlotte, Emily and Anne sit by their fireplace plotting, debating and dreaming in acts of collective imagination. They transform the vast English moors surrounding their home into Gondal, Angria and Glass Town. They populate their fictional landscape with characters like Zamorna, Lord Northangerland, Mary Percy and Quashia Quamina, each with their own rich history and narrative function. The dramas that unfold in Glass Town--stories of courtship, love, war and deception--are grand, inchoate products of pure childhood imagination. The lush fictional worlds that the young Brontës conjure together become as real to them as their waking worlds and follow them well into adulthood. Greenberg's illustrations, in deep purples and reds, are as moody and dreamlike as the Brontë canon. With this humane and enchanting portrait of Yorkshire's most prominent literary siblings, Greenberg secures her place among extraordinary talents in contemporary comics. --Emma Levy

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Woman from Uruguay

by Pedro Mairal , trans. by Jennifer Croft

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Pedro Mairal's The Woman from Uruguay follows a contemporary Argentine writer named Lucas for a single fateful Tuesday, as he travels from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and back again. Lucas narrates these events, with flashes forward and back in time, in a lengthy direct address to his wife, Catalina. "You told me I talked in my sleep. That's the first thing I remember." He is stumbling, if not entirely failing, as a writer, in debt to nearly everyone he knows, and fairly sure that Catalina is cheating on him. The purpose of the day trip to Uruguay is ostensibly to collect a significant sum of money in cash (advances on two books), which Lucas expects will change his fortunes. His hidden, secondary purpose is to visit the titular woman with whom Lucas has been captivated since they met at a writers' festival months earlier. He calls her Guerra--war--and is obsessed by their so-far-unconsummated affair.

Lucas is self-pitying, a bit sleazy in his adulterous aspirations and at best a mediocre husband and father. But readers will be drawn in by the mysterious Guerra and the pathetic and darkly comic narrative of Lucas's unlucky day. He can be woefully misguided by desire (for Guerra, for escape from responsibility), artful in his telling (Lucas is a writer, after all), wry, clever and even wise. The translation from Spanish by Jennifer Croft (Homesick) handles such moods and idiosyncrasies perfectly. Readers may not be precisely rooting for Lucas to get what he wants (which is a bit unclear even to Lucas), but they will certainly be eager to find out what happens next. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Part picaresque, part tragedy, this critical day in the life of a hapless Argentine writer and would-be lover is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Bloomsbury, $24, hardcover, 160p., 9781635577334

Ivory Shoals

by John Brandon

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Ivory Shoals, the story of an intrepid trek across Florida, is filled with deadpan humor, exquisite landscapes and the musings of a precocious young man who calls it like he sees it. The novel follows 12-year-old Gussie Dwyer, a boy traveling across the state after the Civil War, searching for the father he never met. In his fourth novel, John Brandon (A Million Heavens) explores the loneliness of a child alone in the world (the aftermath of the death of his prostitute mother) and the unexpected companionship he finds during his journey. The inner musings of other Floridians--an oblivious inventor, a scheming half-brother, a jealous servant and a cutthroat bounty hunter--are interjected throughout Gussie's narrative, rounding out a brilliant set of bizarre, original and intriguing characters.

Although there are bits and pieces of action throughout (including murders, train hopping and nighttime raids), this is first and foremost a work of historical fiction. Florida--and particularly Florida in 1865--is as much a character as Gussie or anyone else. Throughout the adventure, the prose is dotted with sumptuous details, delivered with flowing beauty: "The great naked cypresses towering above, while their smooth-skinned knees jutted up from below like lost monks in their robes. Yellow-tongued cow lilies and floppy canna flowers. Above, a bodiless ceiling of ash." Brandon places readers in this vivid setting, and populates it with thieves, heroes, desperate souls, emancipated people, vengeful sons and kindly old men. The result is a novel of total immersion. --Simone Woronoff, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This elegant work of historical fiction is perfect for fans of Swamplandia, adventure epics and singular coming-of-age narratives.

McSweeney's, $26, hardcover, 250p., 9781952119170

Mystery & Thriller

The Heathens

by Ace Atkins

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Sheriff Quinn Colson's mission to clean up Tibbehah County, Miss., doesn't get easier, as Ace Atkins (The Lost Ones) shows in The Heathens, the 11th novel in this exciting, multi-layered series that has earned two Edgar nominations. Atkins's series forcefully tackles racism, war veterans, small-town corruption and greed. The Heathens adds issues of children raising children and social media influence.

Quinn, a former U.S. Army Ranger, is used to varied criminals--some uncannily sharp, many downright dumb. But The Heathens has Quinn chasing his most unusual criminals: 17-year-old Tanya Jane ("TJ") Byrd, accused of murdering her mother, Gina, a drug addict with a penchant for abusive men. TJ has fled with her nine-year-old brother, John Wesley, boyfriend Ladarius McCade and best friend Holly Harkins. Along the way, they pick up wealthy teenager Chastity Bloodgood, who joins after they break into one of her father's houses and has too much fun making TJ a social-media darling (300,000 likes!). TJ has a reputation for being meaner than a snake, but Quinn doesn't believe she would murder her mother. Despite the many cars TJ and her friends have stolen and the homes they've broken into as they travel to California, Quinn believes they're running because they're scared, not guilty. Quinn's search for the real killer puts him at odds with his friend and former employee Lillie Virgil, now a deputy U.S. marshal, as well as the county's usual miscreants.

Atkins's skillful blend of an action-packed pursuit, complicated relationships and a heavy dose of compassion for the young gang elevates The Heathens. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: Sheriff Quinn Colson pursues a teen who may be falsely accused of murdering her mother in the action-packed 11th novel in this always entertaining series.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 416p., 9780593328392

Science Fiction & Fantasy

She Who Became the Sun

by Shelley Parker-Chan

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Asian Australian writer Shelley Parker-Chan reimagines the founding of a dynasty in She Who Became the Sun, a bold, breathtaking historical fantasy debut seething with intrigue and action.

In 1345 CE China, a village in its fourth year of drought lies "flattened under the sun like a defeated dog." Once 11 in number, only three of the Zhu family survive: 11-year-old Zhu Chongba, his father and his 10-year-old sister. Because of his lucky birth order, Chongba is expected to achieve greatness, while the village fortune teller prophesies his sister's fate as "Nothing." When bandits kill their father, though, Chongba succumbs to grief and starvation. Hungry for survival, his sister (hereafter referred to as Zhu) decides to take his name, his clothing and his fate. Disguised as Chongba, she finds food and shelter as a monk but never forgets that to evade the nothingness of her true fate, she must achieve her brother's promised greatness instead. A civil war brings the opportunity she craves, but standing in her way is General Ouyang, a eunuch renowned for his beautiful face and military prowess. The last of his line, Ouyang pretends to faithfully serve the family who murdered his own while secretly plotting vengeance. Evenly matched in strategic brilliance and both outsiders in a society of rigid gender roles, Zhu and Ouyang are pitted against each other in a deadly battle of wit and will to determine their own futures and that of China.

Vibrant and passionately inventive, She Who Became the Sun gives the aphorism "live life like your head is on fire" dazzling new meaning. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The first in a historical fantasy duology, this pulse-pounding epic reimagines the founding of a dynasty through the eyes of its well-developed queer leads.

Tor, $27.99, hardcover, 416p., 9781250621801

A Radical Act of Free Magic

by H.G. Parry

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In this epic historical fantasy, the second in the Shadow Histories series (following A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians), H.G. Parry paints intimate portraits of not-quite-historical figures.

After Robespierre broke the Concord by raising an army of the dead, Europe became engulfed in a war of magic for the first time in centuries. Now the blood magician who brought Robespierre to power has allied himself with Napoléon Bonaparte. In England, William Wilberforce's fight for abolition and the free exercise of magic conflicts with the war effort, straining his friendship with William Pitt the Younger, who has his own magical secrets known by only a few. But the blood magician is not interested just in Europe; in Saint-Domingue, Fina works her magic to support Toussaint Louverture while spying on the stranger.

Parry (The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep) blends genres in A Radical Act of Free Magic and its predecessor, and succeeds in all of them. The introduction of a new character, commoner weather mage Kate Dove, opens possibilities for naval battle sequences that will excite any historical military fiction fan. The political issues surrounding magic and who has the right to practice it intertwine with the abolition movement and Enlightenment politics in a way that will strike readers as perfectly natural, in spite of the supernatural material. Most of all, Parry depicts both the original and the fictionalized characters with true heart. Readers should be prepared to shed tears for historical figures. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This sweeping story of a magical version of the Napoleonic era goes straight to the heart.

Redhook, $28, hardcover, 512p., 9780316459143

Graphic Books

Let's Make Dumplings!: A Comic Book Cookbook

by Hugh Amano , Sarah Becan

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Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan follow up their popular Let's Make Ramen! with their equally exuberant Let's Make Dumplings!: A Comic Book Cookbook. They begin with an overview of just what a cultural mainstay dumplings have become (Italian tortellini, anyone?). In addition to the array of Chinese dumplings (especially Jiaozi), the co-creators provide recipes for Japaneze Gyoza and Korean Mando.

A double-page spread of pantry staples and another of cooking equipment make (with some prep work) spontaneous dumpling dinners easy. And directions for freezing all manner of dumplings (except for Baozi, which are better cooked fresh or with minimal refrigeration), allow for no-fuss spreads with a bountiful assortment of savory and sweet options. The graphic novel approach gives readers a sense of the shapes and folds of different types of dumplings (e.g., wontons vs. pleated crescents) that can be challenging to detect in photographs, and the sequential art makes the step-by-step instructions a breeze. The artwork also injects some humor into memorable cautionary steps; for instance, a panel illustration of the dough "resting" under a blanket emphasizes the 30-minute waiting period, strongly recommended between creating the dough and manipulating it into round or square dumplings.

Amano and Becan even offer tips on how to work chopsticks and, in the case of xiaolongbao (soup dumplings filled with warm broth), balancing the dumpling on a spoon while using chopsticks to open a small hole for the steam to escape before draining the dumpling of fluid (into your mouth) and then eating it. They recommend preferred approaches for cooking each type of dumpling (steaming, frying, deep-frying), then encourage cooks to experiment. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A can-do step-by-step guide for cooking delectable savory and sweet dumplings in graphic novel form, from the creators of Let's Make Ramen!

Ten Speed Press, $19.99, paperback, 208p., 9781984858757

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness

by Kristen Radtke

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When Kristen Radtke (Imagine Wanting Only This) began writing Seek You in 2016, the world was rather different. "Loneliness is one of the most universal things any person can feel," her author's note posits, but still-looming, pandemic-mandated isolation imbues her spectacular graphic memoir with chilling urgency.

Radtke derives her title from the Anglicized truncation of an amateur radio greeting--"CQ call"--in French (because French is the official language for international telecommunications) that "means, essentially, 'Is there anyone out there?' " As an adult, Radtke is surprised to learn of her father's nightly radio search for response and engagement. And so, she begins her examination--personal, social, scientific, historical, contemporary--with the need to "listen," "watch," "click," "touch" (all chapter titles) in order to connect. Laugh tracks, gossip, fear, chat rooms, Yayoi Kusama, Twitter, cuddlers-for-hire, each play a role in avoiding, confronting, overcoming (even just temporarily) the ubiquity of loneliness. Most haunting are Radtke's depictions of neglected human babies and tortured rhesus monkeys.

Throughout Radtke's panel-less, meticulous pages, her favored perspective is to present her characters from behind, asking audiences to look over someone's shoulders, making readers both distanced observers and complicit witnesses. Heightening the sense of isolated confinement, Radtke limits her illustrations to a controlled palette of black, white, grays, shades of teal to purple, degrees of yellow to reds. As her narrative proceeds, the darker hues lessen while the brightness intensifies. And yet, for now, as two strangers peer at one another still separated by panes of glass in the final image, Radtke's world isn't quite ready for full-color spectacle. Her words, however, remain hopeful: "I want us each to hear, miraculously, a voice calling back." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Kristen Radtke's extraordinary new graphic memoir intricately examines loneliness through personal, social, scientific, historical and contemporary lenses.

Pantheon, $30, hardcover, 352p., 9781524748067

Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor

by Pascal Girard , trans. by Aleshia Jensen

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A book about a possible murder, award-winning French Canadian Pascal Girard's Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor guarantees delight--if nothing else but to laugh with Girard himself. Here in his vivid graphic world, translated by Aleshia Jensen, Pascal Girard is Rebecca's partner (he just wants a romantic, childless date night) and eight-month-old Lucie's father (he's still struggling with the logistics of parenthood).

Girard is definitely no star; that superhero title instead goes to Rebecca, who's making the most of the final weeks of her maternity leave. She's attuned to Lucie's every need while managing a social life through mommy-and-me classes, which occasionally require chasing away shutterbug perverts. One dark night while nursing Lucie, she witnesses suspicious activity on the street below. The news at her local café soon thereafter announces the disappearance of Eduardo, a home nurse familiar to many for his helpful kindness. Rebecca recalls that late-night "CLONK," and is inspired to start her own investigation. Of course, Lucie proves to be the ideal sidekick none of Eduardo's employers, family or colleagues can resist.

Girard (Petty Theft) saturates his borderless six-panels-to-a-page with riotously vibrant color--as if his admiration for Rebecca's clever energy can't be fully contained. And is she for real? That line between fiction and memoir blurs further when he credits her by full name for the several pages recounting Lucie's birth story. A bit of sleuthing confirms Pascal and Rebecca are a Montreal couple, that Rebecca works at a bookstore and their bebé Lulu exists. Whether the rest is verifiable doesn't quite matter--because this is undoubtedly one family affair worth thoroughly enjoying. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Graphic storyteller Pascal Girard beguilingly turns his partner and child into everyday superheroes as their amateur sleuthing helps solve a local disappearance.

Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95, paperback, 100p., 9781770464643

Science

Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color

by Kai Kupferschmidt

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Since ancient times, humans have been captivated by the color blue--sometimes to the point of obsession. In Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color, German science journalist Kai Kupferschmidt takes a fascinating and well-researched look at all aspects of this moody hue, including how people create it, talk about it and see it (or don't see it). Along his globetrotting journey, Kupferschmidt confirms that blue in the natural world is extremely hard to find--and some objects appear blue due to an elaborate trick of the light. As one example, cornflowers don't actually absorb any blue light at all. "In a sense, blue is what the plant rejects. Calling it 'blue' is a bit like calling a country club 'feminist' because it doesn't allow women."

Because of the color's scarcity, some scientists have devoted their careers to engineering blue plants and pigments. When Kupferschmidt travels to Japan to see blue chrysanthemums, the breathtaking results are bolstered by scientific fact. "I think of the retinal in the cones of my retina. We owe it to this plant molecule that we are able to see colors at all. Perhaps it is only fair that, in return, we have taught chrysanthemums how to be blue." As he examines the color's history--from the jewelry of the pharaohs to the accidental development of poisonous cyanide--Kupferschmidt writes with a welcoming mix of knowledge and childlike wonder. The book also features striking illustrations of pigments, flowers and stones that underscore his message that the experience of blue is both universal and deeply personal. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this fascinating and well-researched book, German science journalist Kai Kupferschmidt travels the world to understand the history and many origins of the color blue.

Experiment, $24.95, hardcover, 224p., 9781615197521

Performing Arts

Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars

by Edward Gross , Mark A. Altman

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So much has been written about the Star Wars movies--is there anything people still don't know about them? The answer is yes, as revealed in Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman's engaging, nearly 600-page Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars.

Organized chronologically, the behind-the-scenes anecdotes take readers from the development of 1977's Star Wars (since retitled Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope) through 2019's Star Wars, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, also covering the franchise's standalone movies, such as Rogue One, and TV projects.

The stories come from interviews--both new and archived--with creator George Lucas, the actors and key creative minds behind the movies. It's unclear which excerpts are fresh or old (besides those from people now deceased), but Gross and Altman do state that all of Lucas's quotes are from previously published materials; Lucas didn't make himself available for this book. Regardless, there's enough material here for even diehard fans to learn something new. Such as Episode IV having roots in the Vietnam War because Lucas wanted to direct Apocalypse Now but the job went to Francis Ford Coppola. Peter Cushing, who played the evil Grand Moff Tarkin, was a lovely man who smelled of lavender, making it difficult for Carrie Fisher to pretend to hate him on camera. And Episode IX would have been much more philosophical had original writer/director Colin Trevorrow's version made it to the screen instead of J.J. Abrams's. Even if fans already know everything, Secrets of the Force will likely inspire them to rewatch the films and revisit the magic. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: In an engrossing oral history, creatives from the Star Wars franchise discuss their experiences in bringing the groundbreaking saga to the screen.

St. Martin's Press, $29.99, hardcover, 576p., 9781250236876

Children's & Young Adult

Flash Fire

by TJ Klune

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Flash Fire, TJ Klune's deeply funny follow-up to The Extraordinaries, traces teenager Nick Bell's anything-but-average life living in the company of superheroes. This dynamic story is a satisfying sequel that also stands firmly on its own.

Nick, his boyfriend Seth and their queer female-identified best friends (one of whom is Black) are busy navigating young adult milestones like prom and becoming physically intimate while also trying to survive spontaneous encounters with Extraordinaries, superheroes of both the good and evil persuasions. One moment, Nick's single father catches him and his boyfriend in a compromising position; the next, Nick is trapped in an alley with supervillains. Unfortunately, Nick's innocent curiosity combined with his impulsivity--an effect of his ADHD--often cause him to misread potentially harmful situations. "If only ADHD could be a superpower," Nick laments. When an old foe--during a surprise encounter--claims a personal link to Nick's deceased mother, Nick becomes convinced there's more to his mom's history than what his father has shared. Nick soon uncovers a secret about his mother's past that leads to a startling personal discovery.

Nick is the novel's third-person limited narrator. His hilarious, rapid-fire thoughts and delightful non sequiturs allow readers to inhabit a comfortable space where they can laugh at his foibles while also feeling protective toward him. Klune effectively juxtaposes LGBTQ+ young adults and their everyday pressures with dangerous run-ins with Extraordinaries. The author establishes meaningful, complicated relationships and melds them with fast-paced suspenseful action scenes that will surely captivate fans of classic superhero fiction and convert newbies. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms

Discover: This entertaining contemporary fantasy weaves sweet queer high school relationships and suspenseful superhero action.

Tor Teen, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 13-up, 9781250203687

ParaNorthern and the Chaos Bunny A-Hop-Calypse

by Stephanie Cooke , illust. by Mari Costa

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Coming of age can be rough, even for the supernatural. In this humorous, highly entertaining middle-grade graphic novel, a witch, a wolf girl, a pumpkin head and a hijab-wearing ghost band together to Scooby-Doo a solution to an inter-dimensional portal breach.

A young witch named Abby, who is stirred and angered by a bullying incident she witnesses, is startled when her magic surges, causing her accidentally to open a door to another dimension. The hordes of Chaos Bunnies that are unleashed are cute enough... until they bare their fangs and begin chewing through electrical wires and decimating pumpkin patches. With backup from her loyal and hilarious friends, Abby labors to close the gap before the bunnies have destroyed the entire town.

The full-color digital art of webcomic artist and illustrator Mari Costa, who lives in Portugal, captures both zany action and the sweetness of friend, family and community relationships. Stephanie Cooke, co-creator of the Oh My Gods! graphic novel series, develops a fully-fleshed, well-rounded world with a light touch: ranges of gender identities and sexual orientations are unremarkable here, as are inter-super relationships. Paranorthern and the Chaos Bunny A-Hop-Calypse also touches on single-parent households, finding a sense of belonging as an immigrant, sibling dynamics and choosing good over corruption and power. Magical puberty is no picnic, either. Abby is facing weird new ebbs and flows of her powers and Gita the wolf girl can't stop herself from chasing the Chaos Bunnies. ("My mom says it's part of maturing into wolf adolescence and that I'll be able to control the urges soon....") We can totally relate. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this humorous supernatural middle-grade graphic novel, a group of friends find that their connections to each other, their families and the community bring power enough to solve big messes.

Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers, $24.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9780358168997

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